Saturday, September 17, 2011

PERCEPTUAL RELATIVITY* - How We "Know"

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Out of body experience[Image, "Astral Projection" via Wikipedia]We learn about how to measure things (and even about how to experience feelings) through a process of comparing and contrasting. Intelligence is, in large part, an associative or metaphorical process. Based upon experience or teaching, we recognize patterns and learn how to predict outcomes based upon information. This enables us to respond to changes in our environment, to solve problems...and to survive. Intelligence, when acted upon, is a wonderfully mysterious and exciting tool, although its absolute definition is still a bit elusive.

When it comes to perceptions of measurable things, like pleasure; pain, light; darkness, shallow; deep, too little; too much, how fast; how slow, and the like, we base our assessments (and even our interpretations of experiences -- one person's pleasure is another's pain...) upon what we have experienced. Everything we think or feel is relative, as well as subjective.



I refer to this means of measurement as Perceptual Relativity* (which is a Lingovation). Going a step further, it means that a person's reactions to and feelings about different things are going to be based upon his or her personal experiences, in his or her personal context. Context is very much the same as "frame of reference."

The compare and contrast components of context can be illustrated by these common examples:
  • You just don't appreciate your mother's cooking until you've spent some time in the military;
  • You don't know what pleasure is until you've experienced pain;
  • You can't appreciate the illuminating power of light until you've spent some time living in the darkness;
  • We often don't realize how fortunate we are to have someone or something until that someone or something is gone from our lives.
  • Your perception of the passage of time, and the length of time that something takes is very different from that of a person of two years of age if you have lived fifty years -- this really is 'experiential division' -- one year is half of a two year old's total lifetime of experience, while one year for you (old person, you) is representative of only two percent of your entire life's experience. Time seems to "speed up" as you've lived longer. A season can eventually seem like a moment...
In communicating with someone, it is extremely helpful to have some insight into that other person's context. Put simply, I don't talk to Millenials about the Watergate Scandal, The Kent State incident or Agent Orange -- I take care not to use these "ancient" references in illustrations. As a Baby Boomer, I have to take great pains to avoid using inappropriate (i.e., very dated), and obscure refences when speaking with those significantly younger. If I engage in conversation with someone from a very different culture than my own, I have to consciously calibrate my very American sense of humor.

Each of us, as a communicator, has to be conscious of our own context, as well as the context of the individual or group to whom we are imparting information. Part of smart communication involves using the other person's context in choosing and using our own metaphors and other illustrations. If we are not, then we render ourselves, and what we have say, irrelevant or unintelligible.

Douglas E. Castle



A fellow from Mongolia might not see the ironic humor in the above photo.
An excellent example of different contexts.

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